Saturday, December 19, 2009

Return of the Judaizers

The recent comment about Jesus' so-called original teaching is a matter for concern, though I'd rather not spend much time on it just now. C. S. Lewis said that human nature is constantly moving from one extreme to the other, and having spent far too long despising anything Jewish, some people have gone the other way and now worship anything Jewish.

The middle ground isn't that hard to find. The Old Testament remains vital reading for Christians, because it gives the context of the New Testament. Without it, the New Testament is meaningless and without foundation. Further, much that we find in the early Church, including the term for church itself, ekklesia (= "assembly"), has Jewish origins. Ignoring these facts leads to folly.

On the other hand, Judaism itself has changed considerably since the time of Christ. I have seen references to Jesus wearing a tallit, for example, which is a neat trick considering that they didn't arise until centuries later. From an OT perspective, covering the head was a sign of mourning--David fleeing Absalom (2 Sam 15:30--13:19 may also be an example) and Est 6:12 (though here it's Haman[!] who is our example). In the NT, Paul says that a man who is praying or prophesying should not cover his head (1 Cor 11:4, 7), and he seems to consider this obvious: there is no hint that he is disagreeing with the normal Jewish practice of the day. So some people back-read a modern practice into biblical times and misunderstandings arise.

Then there's the matter of considering non-Christian Jewish sources authoritative. In 2 Cor 3:13–16, Paul deals with this: when an unsaved Jew (probably anyone unsaved—2 Cor 4:3–4) reads the Law, he can't understand it properly; only in Christ is truth revealed. You can learn a lot from unsaved experts, but you must always remember that you're dealing with someone at least partly blind.

But the recent comment goes beyond such incautious blunders: the group in question effectively believes that Jesus did not come to establish a new covenant, because the old laws remain in place. Indeed, they ignore the argument of Heb 7:12--there has come a change of priesthood and therefore of law. They may bring up Mat 5:17-19, where Jesus claims that he has come to fulfill the Law rather than destroy it, and that the Law will remain until everything has been fulfilled. But since he came to fulfill it, he either did so or failed; and if he fulfilled the Law, its purpose has been accomplished, and a new covenant may be introduced. Rejecting the new covenant robs Jesus' life, death, and resurrection of their meaning; it marks a return to the first major heresy in Christianity: the Judaizers.

That's about all I'll say on the topic at the moment, though I'm sure I'll have to revisit it. Just indulge some healthy skepticism about wild (and often contentious) claims. You can usually pick up what kind of spirit and wisdom (Jam 3:13–17) they're using. Also remember what C. S. Lewis said about those who attack Christianity: they usually claim to accept what Jesus said while attacking Paul's teaching, but if you look carefully, it's really Jesus' teaching they're attacking. They just think Paul is a safer target. That's cowardice—and hypocrisy. Such people refute themselves.

If all goes well, I should resume some overdue reviews and get back to Dark World in short order—in fact, I'll probably intersperse them a bit.

No comments:

Powered by WebRing.